"Star Trek" Captain James T. Kirk is a Republican.
That’s what Ted Cruz wants you to think, anyway. In an interview with the New York Times, Cruz argues that what makes Kirk, well, Kirk, are the very values that define the GOP.
“I think it is quite likely that Kirk is a Republican and [Jean-Luc] Picard is a Democrat,” Cruz told the Times, suggesting that Picard — Kirk’s successor as captain of the fictional USS Enterprise — is too rational to be an effective leader.
Cruz clearly believes that the country would benefit from having a Kirk-like figure in the White House. But as arguments for electing a Republican go, this is not a winning one.
Kirk’s character is charismatic and assertive, which are positive qualities we associate with leadership. But Kirk — quick to action and even quicker to take risks — is also prone to letting his passions get in the way of what is best for his crew and the mission at hand.
In fact, Kirk’s saving grace is that his more rational crew members — his interstellar cabinet, so to speak — keep him in check. No one more so than Spock, who is often described as Kirk’s more logical alter ego.
Given that President Obama is often compared to Spock, it's no surprise to see Cruz claim Kirk for the Republicans. But far from being a more “complete” leader than Picard, as Cruz likes to claim, Kirk is a rather one-dimensional figure whose most memorable successes take place during crises — and even then, generally in spite of himself.
In “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” Kirk allows his personal hatred of Klingons — a legitimate emotion stemming from the murder of his only son at the hand of the evil Commander Kruge — to put him in a compromising position. The Federation is about to sign a historic peace treaty with the Klingons, who are at risk of dying out from an environmental catastrophe. But rather than help a civilization in trouble, Kirk wants to “let them die.”
Even as Kirk grudgingly assists with Starfleet’s mission, his prejudiced remarks become a weapon against him when he is framed for murdering a senior Klingon official. In the end, it’s really guidance from his crewmates and a desire to exonerate himself that push Kirk to save the day.
It’s not just Kirk’s hatreds, but also his passions that create unnecessary risks for his crew, the Federation and, in at least one case, a big chunk of human history. In the original "Star Trek" series episode "The City on the Edge of Forever," Kirk and Spock travel back in time to the 1930s on a quest to restore history as they know it after the timeline becomes damaged by their crew’s chief medical officer, Dr. Leonard McCoy.
They end up in Depression-era New York City, where Kirk begins to fall in love with a woman, Edith Keeler, whom they later learn was supposed to die in a car accident that McCoy somehow prevents. If she lives on, she starts a pacifist movement that would delay the United States' entrance into World War II long enough that Nazi Germany wins, dramatically rewriting history so that the Federation never exists.
When Keeler steps in front of a fast-moving truck — setting up a return to a normal timeline — Kirk instinctively moves to save her, freezing only when Spock yells at him. So in the end, it’s the rational side that saves the Federation.
And sometimes Kirk exhibits plain stupidity. He nearly dies at the beginning of “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” while climbing El Capitan in Yosemite, only surviving because Spock was there to catch him with rocket boots — another case where his more rational companion literally served as his safety net. Hours later, Kirk demonstrates spectacularly poor tactical judgment when he allows his ship to be hijacked by fanatics and piloted halfway across the galaxy.
Like Kirk, Picard also suffers the indignity of an attempted hijacking. But the older captain performs far more admirably in the situation, thwarting the attackers and retaking the ship singlehandedly, while the rest of the Enterprise crew is not aboard.
Though rational, Picard is not unwilling to use force. In fact, he’s a brilliant tactician, using his knowledge of the Borg to defeat them at the Battle of Sector 001. That's not the only example. Using a short burst of the warp drive, Picard defeats a Ferengi vessel by making it look like his ship is in two places at once, which coins a whole term: The Picard Maneuver. It takes 10 years for anyone to come up with a defense against it.
Picard values order and the rules that support it. Whereas Kirk frequently leads missions off the ship, potentially putting himself and the Enterprise at risk if anything were to happen to him, Picard rarely ventures on missions himself. This is not a cowardly move if your job is to make strategic decisions that can affect the fate of the galaxy.
Moreover, Kirk’s willingness to break the rules whenever it suits him is not the kind of habit that befits a leader of the free world. Kirk hacks the infamously unwinnable Kobayashi Maru training scenario so that he doesn't lose. He steals an entire Federation starship to pursue a personal mission, only to blow up the craft when he faces defeat. He commandeers an enemy starship and pilots it back to Earth against the direct orders of his civilian leaders. He provides flintlock muskets to a primitive civilization, violating the cardinal rule of Starfleet never to interfere with a civilization's development.He would rather upend history to satisfy his personal romantic desires than save the lives of billions.
In "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home," Kirk faces a reckoning of sorts when he and his crew return to Starfleet. The welcoming committee greets him with a list of charges. If Kirk were president, he would probably be impeached.
This kind of recklessness probably isn’t what the GOP wants to be known for. In fact, as a party that prides itself on honoring traditions and institutions, Republicans should know better than to champion a captain who so routinely disrespects them.